Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Daniel Hoffman focuses on this sacred zone of hesitation and
illustrates what fellow poet Richard Howard remarks about
Hoffman’s sense of myth, ritual, and history: “entrances and
exits are everything, the transit negligible, except as it might
leave a clutter of clues, on the cavern walls.” Nowhere overtly
Jewish, Hoffman nevertheless writes about “Broken Laws” that
demand an uncluttering of clues. The “way” in “The Way It
Is” carries multiple connotations — historical, psychological,
mythical, allegorical, and existential rather than merely spatial.
Indeed, the simple monosyllables and lack of specificity in the
title and in much of the poem conceal a complexity beneath
the surface.
They were waiting here to say
This is the way it is
This is the way
I came bawling into their domain
Of harsher light
Remembering a place
Of purer light and messages
Passed across a darkened transom
From that place
They said this is the way it is
In this light this dust
This scuffle for the scraps, bad blood
Between unequals
You’ll get wise
You can break
Your heart against stones here
Counsellors, betake your
Covenants of convenience
To a place of stones,
Must lift the shadow of each shadow
To find the dooryard
To that place.
The third-person plural could refer to some ancestral presence
awaiting the poet’s birth and arrival. Shifting pronouns and